2018 – A Year to Remember

Before giving, the mind of the giver is happy; while giving, the mind of the giver is made peaceful; and having given, the mind of the giver is uplifted – The Buddha.”

For Square Peg, 2018 was a year of unprecedented growth.

In July, we officially opened Square Peg at Cadence Farm in Sonoma, CA.  Our own Becca Knopf is at the helm of Square Peg in Cadence Farms making new alliances, bringing in new families and volunteers, training up the horses and bringing that special #TeamQuirky vibe to the California Wine country.

We forged new relationships in our quest to achieve ABA therapy objectives by leading with compassion and support.  The results are in – our clients hit all of their milestones well ahead of schedule.  Helping us prove that compassion, environment, movement and support and intrinsic motivation – rather than rigorous and undignified methods are what make real change.

We said goodbye to Bert – our beautiful Dutch gelding who served families at Square Peg for 11 years and Thair, our beautiful Walker Hound who lived his 17 years on earth with grace and sweetness.  We miss them both dearly.

We partnered with Liskennett Farm in County Cork, Ireland to share ideas on how to improve services for families and how to replicate our programs to have greater impact – and we partnered with Farm de Lek in Thailand to bring HorseBoy Method to Asia.  We were able to present what is special about Square Peg in Germany, in Louisville Kentucky and we visited our mentors in Lisbon, Portugal to deepen our understanding of Classical Horsemanship Principles.

Truth is, I’ve personally logged more airline miles in 2018 than in the last 20 years of my life combined – and all of it was in the spirit of sharing and mutually improving our services to support autism families and for Off Track Thoroughbreds the world over.

I no longer feel like I’m shouting into the wilderness.  I feel connected and supported myself and further challenged to know that every wild dream the Darius and I have ever had for Square Peg is not only possible, but that beautiful and kind people have already paved the way and are willing to help us make these things come true.

I could wax on and on for pages – but if a picture is worth a thousand words, then here is a 1:30 video to tell the story of a very important year.

We need your support to continue to grow and connect and serve.

We PROMISE to make you proud to be a Square Peg supporter.

Please donate today.

In gratitude,

Joell &

#TeamQuirky

Changes

“……turn and face the strain.” David Bowie

This week we hosted our gathering we call Salon.  We talked about Change.  We had the chance to talk about how fear of change balances with excitement about change and how trepidation and excitement are so closely linked and how we are better able to manage our fear of change when we feel connected and supported.

Connected and supported are the two things that come up every time we sit down and discuss complicated and difficult things.

Change. It’s all around us.  Seasons, climate, elections, aging.  Change our minds, change our space.

A friend posted on her Facebook page a story that a doctor had come to them to explain what he felt was “their reality.”  That they as a family needed to be prepared to support their child for the rest of her life because, in his opinion, she would likely never hold a job or live independently.

The woman’s social media community reached out in kindness and anger and we all digitally held this mother’s hand with words of encouragement and solidarity.

Connection and support.

But it wasn’t enough.

When I think of opportunities for Square Peg and where we are going and how best to honor families needs, donors’ contributions and employee and volunteer efforts – I think about where we are going and I remembered something radical that my friend Rupert Isaacson   said.

He was being interviewed and the interviewer asked him what his most dangerous idea was.

He didn’t hesitate – he knew exactly where he was going.

He said:

“What happens today is that a doctor walks into his office to confront anxious parents.  He/she sits down, looks them in the eye and says ‘your child has autism. You must be prepared that your child may never live independently.  He/she will need lifelong medication, special schooling and therapy.  He may never talk or hold a job.  You need to learn how to make visual schedules for everything and you will need special caregivers.’

Horseboy

Rupert’s wild and dangerous idea is this:

“Instead, the doctor walks into the office and addresses the same anxious parents by popping open a champagne bottle and pouring glasses and saying ‘you are in for a wild journey.  Your child has a different neurological makeup than most of us.  He sees the world differently and you, as his parent are going to learn more about this world than you ever imagined.  You will learn more about yourself, about nature, about language and about emotions than anyone you know.  You are going to meet some amazing people and your entire understanding of humanity will expand. So let’s toast to your new life and get this party started!’”

Change.  A change in perception – a shift from trepidation to excitement. A change from feeling abandoned to feeling supported and connected.

This shift means everything.  And the path for Square Peg becomes clear – to embody this shift from fear to engagement – from isolation to connection.

Change.

“………..And these children that you spit on   –  As they try to change their worlds –  Are immune to your consultations –  They’re quite aware of what they’re goin’ through”.    David Bowie 8 January 1947 – 10 January 2016

For Bert

October 2007, almost 11 yeas ago, a dark brown Dutch Warmblood came to stay at Square Peg.  He was handsome, he had a very good impression of himself, he had some moves.  For a time, he was king of the pasture and we called him “the Benevolent Dictator” because he ruled quietly, but carried a big stick.  He loved to lick people and did it with his eyes half closed, his thick and long eyelashes fluttering in pleasure.

He could carry you through exuberant lead changes and then pack a scared rider with care.  He always knew.

He was steadfast on the trail – brave and clever.

He and his best friend Panzer –  we referred to as “Grumpy Old Men” – they truly loved one another.

His favorite human, Carolyn cared for him daily with quiet walks and grooming.  Their bond was special and we are so grateful to Carolyn’s family for their support of Bert in his senior years.  They never wavered when he needed care.

He allowed pensive teen girls to scrub his white socks to a gleam and for wistful thinkers to braid flowers into his tail.

Dogs always wanted him to play with him and I never understood why they singled him out.

Last month,  friends were visiting from the Netherlands. The two teenaged daughters took him for a walk and spoke lovingly to him in his native Dutch.  I’m smiling just  remembering their sweet words and how he looked like he was enjoying it so throughly.

As his health and vigor faded, he never complained and I kept my promise that I’d feed and clean and medicate him as long as he still wanted to eat.

Today, he refused even the cookies he loved so much.  It was time.

Our steadfast veterinarian was with me to do what must be done. No matter what anyone tells you – it’s far from easy. But gentle Bert made it  clear to us that he was ready to go.

I’m so grateful to him – for the years of service and friendship.  For the joy he brought to so many.

Rest well my friend – and give my best to Cometa – another gallant soul who was part of the Square Peg Family that passed earlier this week.

This is the two of them together.  I’d like to think they are sharing stories again.

Is Square Peg at Cadence Farm – Sonoma What Your Family Is Looking For?

Square Peg at Cadence Farm is now accepting families to serve in Sonoma California. Conveniently located just off Hwy 121 in Sonoma we are able to offer our world class services for autism families.

Imagine a place where laughter is the norm – where sensory needs are addressed with kindness and respect and movement, curiosity, and play rule the day.  Imagine rescued and donated horses with a new lease on life caring for a family with grace and kindness… This is Square Peg

What you can expect? This video explains our method and illustrates our means of support

If this sounds like something your family wants to participate in – begin by filling out our online intake form.  https://www.squarepegfoundation.org/programs/interested-in-services-fill-out-this-form/

One of our instructors will contact you to set up a no-obligation visit to the farm to see if Square Peg can support your family.

Interested in volunteering?  Start here.

Learn more about how Square Peg came to Cadence Farm 

Our News

Once upon a time there was a horsewoman.

Her name was Susan Pommer.  Susan was svelte, smart and strong.  She was  gentle and kind. Horses and humans adored her.  Susan earned her Bronze, Silver and Gold medals from the USDF.  In 2003, Susan and her husband Kurt bought 11 acres in sunny Sonoma and Cadence Farm was born.

For 14 years horses and riders found joy and acceptance at Cadence.  Under Susan’s thoughtful guidance, horses bloomed and humans achieved their riding goals.

Susan passed last year after a short and brutal battle with lung cancer. Everyone in Susan’s life, especially her family were left confused and heartbroken.

Susan’s family wanted Cadence Farm to continue with the spirit of Susan’s legacy – but who could live up to her vision, her kindness and her talent?

Sadly, nobody.

But.

What if Cadence Farm would honor the spirit of Susan by offering a healing space for horses and humans?  What if horses needing a second chance could help people needing a place to feel they “fit in?”

In this spirit, Square Peg at Cadence Farm was developed.

Square Peg at Cadence Farm will be a satellite of Square Peg Foundation.  Our own Becca Knopf grew up at Cadence and is the project manager of the operation bringing her smile, her talents and her love of Susan to the project.

We are developing partners in Sonoma County in the autism community and working with CARMA to bring in more of our beloved OTTB’s to develop into program horses.

At 6am this morning, we sent three of our horses to begin their new life at Square Peg at Cadence Farm.

A new chapter for Square Peg has begun – to branch out into an additional location to serve more families.

We strive to honor this opportunity with the best of what Square Peg has to offer – the gifts of Dignity and Laughter and Care.

We officially begin operations July 1, 2018.

Stay tuned for more details.

#TeamQuirky

Leadership – Calm is Contagious

The number one leadership factor is:” “Calm is Contagious” says former Navy SEAL commander Rourke Davis.

Imagine that?  Coming from a Navy SEAL – talking about leadership and he  sounds like a neo-buddhist hippy.

Calm is Contagious –  leadership advice.

Yesterday, a family came to the barn. The son is 18. He’s limited verbally and gifted physically. He loves riding horses, he loves waterskiing, swimming and snow skiing.

I was chatting with mom about their awesome ski trip while her son went with his favorite instructor grooming his horse. Mom and I were interrupted by her son yelling loudly and rushing toward us. His face was red and tears were running down both cheeks.

In hopes to help regulate her son, mom calmly showed him her phone with a visual schedule, she asked him to sit and we all did some simple breathing activities. After a few minutes, mom asked if he was ready to go back to his horse, he said yes and walked back to the horse.

A minute later, the same thing happened. He was seriously dis-regulated. His crying was real and he couldn’t tell us what was the matter. We asked him if he wanted to ride and he said he didn’t.  We told mom to go and get her helmet and that she could ride instead. This both excited and terrified mom but she’s as game as they come – autism moms are a tough bunch.

I took her son to the arena and we played his favorite music. He was fond of a country song, particularly of one phrase from the ditty where the singer crooned “I’ve got to pull myself together.”  He played it over and over and over.  Behaviors are communication folks.

The music played.

“I’ve got to pull myself

                  Pull myself

                  Pull myself

                  Pull myself together”   Over and over.

Mom was mounting the horse and like a lightning bolt, her son rushed at her, screaming, crying and reaching for her hair to pull.  I knew I couldn’t make it there before him so I shouted “incoming” to give the instructor, mom and the horse a heads up.

Mom was able to get off the horse and got her son to sit on the ground and told him clearly that rushing the horse and grabbing her hair was not acceptable – ever.

Disaster averted.

We decided to sit quietly with him as he skimmed through his music selection with the horse still close. We talked about life, weather and horses.  Mom brought the horse treats and we giggled at the horse’s lovely face.

We realized that the son was simply exhausted. The excitement of skiing, the drive home – it was a lot. He was not rested and therefore had no resilience available.  Mom also had been up late with him and she, like mothers have always done, put her weariness on hold and handled the day. The best thing we could do was to offer a safe and quiet space for both.

Mom sent us a photo 20 minutes after leaving – her son sound asleep in the back of the car. 

“Calm is contagious.”

Calm made the difference. Mom stayed safe, her son regulated. Calm is what turned a potential meltdown into a chance to find a space to rest. Calm kept the horse from reacting badly. Pedigree geeks in racing will note that the horse is a son of the mighty Fusiachi Pegasus, winner of the 2000 Kentucky Derby. He never wavered. Why?  Because Calm is Contagious.

Calm is valued and cultivated here – it’s how we help each other.

Watch the best horsemen in the world, no matter what the discipline and there’s  one uniting factor – Calm.

If we can help and support a tired autism family to cultivate calm – and find connection –  we have served our community.

There you have it – what’s good for Navy SEALs, world class horsemen, neo-buddhist hippies and us – is Calm and luckily, it’s contagious.

Now I’m going to try to take my own advice, put on some mud boots and deal with a broken water pipe in a muddy horse corral.

Peace out.

Prey Animals a blog post by Davis Finch

 

Blogger Davis Finch finds his voice and his truth in writing another thoughtful piece for the Square Peg website.

 

Horses are prey animals; they are constantly in fear of a predator that wants to eat them.  I have had bad anxiety all my life. Often I feel like a prey animal.  Like horses, I am big and could subdue most would be attackers but, also like horses, I still fear attack from a stronger force that I cannot subdue.  Horses fear of real predators such as mountain lions and coyotes has been an evolutionary necessity for them.  They also have irrational fears of harmless things such as floating plastic bags, tarps blowing in the wind, and poles on the ground.  

My anxiety has likely helped me by tempering my curiosity but can also result in persistent negative thoughts about confinement or death.  It is funny how I kept worrying about farfetched sources of harm but didn’t think to check where my dog was when I ran through the house in the middle of the night (I had a very bad fall).  Similarly, a horse could be freaking out about puddles and shadows but not colic and pasture accidents.

I guess we all have fears both rational and irrational.  Good horsemanship is earning the trust of a horse so he will follow you over his instinctual fears.  Maybe we humans can learn something from that?  Maybe if I can trust myself, I too can overcome my innate fears.  I know I have abnormally high anxiety, but perhaps those feelings of trust and fear are true for most people.  Perhaps, even though we can hunt and eat meat, humans are innately prey animals too.

 

“I Hear You” the Beauty of Salon

Last night, in the safety of our living room, 15 or so of us gathered for Salon.

Historically, Salons were called by fashionable women who would invite intellectuals to their house for a party to discuss heavy topics.  It was a way that women could participate in discussions of policy and philosophy in an informal setting with good food and drink.

Here at Square Peg, Darius and I started hosting Salon to bring people together to dive deeper into complicated subjects in a respectful setting that felt more like a warm gathering of friends than in a “town hall” type setting.

But something magic happened. Our youth commandeered our California take on a cocktail party. They found Salon as a safe and welcoming space to be seen and heard – to listen and formulate opinions and share deep thoughts and experiences.

My job changed from making sure that there was stylish food to offer to gently drawing out those who have not felt safe enough to have their thoughts heard in a group. Salon is now more beautiful than I could have ever imagined.

Last night, we talked about community.  We spent a good amount of time defining what a community is – is it a space with a common interest as vague as a video game or as deep as blood ties. The answer, we decided, was yes to both. We talked about the community of being a sports team fan and how that community because it had a cause and a mission (to beat the other team) could bring out excitement, but also violence. We talked about whether of not a virtual community, gleaned via the internet was a real community and how the pain of a shared experience can bring out the best of us in the uncharted waters known as compassion and empathy.

We started to explore how a community, at some point, has to develop rules to keep things fair, especially when resources become or perceive to become more scarce and that naturally led us to wrap up the night as we all agreed that the next monthly Salon be on the nature of Policy and hence, Politics. We agreed that we would do the best we all could not to get pulled into a divisive discussion of current politics and instead, think about how different political systems evolved and how one system might work for one community and not for another.

Pretty brilliant stuff.

I am grateful for the trust and care that the members of our Square Peg community show to each other in this sweet group.

And I’m wicked grateful for the lovely community that we have all built.

If you are curious, I highly suggest developing a Salon group of your own.  Feel free to email me if you would like advice on how to do it.

Bread and Jam for Behaviors

I’m back from two days in San Diego having had the honor to present Movement Method to a group of therapists on one day and to a group of autism parents on the other. I was assisted by the brilliant and patient Vanda Richardson who applies these methods to her families daily.

We presented well – we were organized, funny, authentic. We got our audiences to laugh and to cry.

The therapists had great questions, asking for advice with a tricky client or for clarification on a particular point. Parents asked the harder questions:

      “When my child is melting down – what can I do?”

       “How can I stay sane and lean into my daughter’s obsession with her dolls?”

Despite some unexpected technology challenges, it went very well.

But our hostess, Jenny Palmiotto  began receiving texts even during the presentation.

      “But how do we DO Movement Method?” People were eager to know how             they could implement change right now.

It’s a frustration I’ve heard before.

And it’s fair.  If you signed up for a cooking class, you would expect to leave the room with some skills to take home about chopping or choosing a cut of meat, about what temperature to pre-heat the oven and how long to cook the roast.

I never want a parent to leave a session or a training feeling guilty or even more tired.  I want people to take away the information with a feeling of connectedness and a plan to incorporate some laughter and joy and understanding into their interactions with their child or with their clients.

I’ve watched parents take in the Horse Boy film and leave feeling defeated saying “Look, I can’t just go up a mountaintop and take my family to Mongolia.  I guess I’m just not as good a parent as they are.”

And it makes me feel terrible.

Because it’s the opposite of what I was trying to convey – which means I may have failed.

Here’s the thing – parenting or therapy is not cooking.  Cooking has an outcome – delicious and nutritious food that will not make you sick.

Working with anyone with neurological struggles is clearly more complicated. The goal is to help a person become as fully realized as a human as possible.

Movement Method is misnamed. It’s not a Method – it’s a framework. It’s a lens to view behaviors, motivations and the brain science of what is happening.  It’s a lens to understand our own cultural upbringing and how we got to a place where we are applying techniques that don’t work – in fact, they create suffering.

Within this framework, we challenge and invite the therapist, teacher or parent to view a situation or a behavior or a goal through a different lens.

I’ll illustrate.

Let’s say the goal is to get a seven year old ME to eat different foods. I’d chosen for myself what I  call “the beige diet” I liked french fries, oatmeal, chicken nuggets and white bread.  We all know a growing body needs more protein, some greens perhaps.  It’s distressing and oh so common.

that’s me, the queen of the beige diet and showing that I’ve never been able to keep my shoes tied.

My mom was a product of 70’s television and made lots of gooey casseroles that started with cans of Campbell’s soup – the sight of the label makes me ill to this day.

You know how this story plays out. Mom and Dad wouldn’t let me leave the table until I’d finished everything no matter how long it might take. It’s what they were told by the parenting experts. They were excellent parents and they were dedicated.  Ergo – mealtimes were hell for all of us.

They were told that I was the middle child trying to get attention by being  picky and now all the attention was on me. Nothing could be farther from the truth. I just wanted to leave the table and go and play outside – or be left alone in my room to read the books I loved.

I’ll play well with siblings, but I’m still not going to eat tuna casserole

Behavior – picky eater

Theory of function of the behavior – attention

Treatment: only offer non preferred foods with no other choices and eventually, survival instinct would kick in and I’d have to eat something at which point there would be much rejoicing and all of my attention getting needs would be met (in reality, I’d just wait until everyone was asleep at night and I’d get up and fix myself a bowl of breakfast cereal)

Stressful, time consuming, ineffective, punishing for the ENTIRE family with long-lasting negative results.

Now, let’s apply a Movement Method lens to the same situation.

What were my intrinsic interests? Outdoor play, reading.

How about we read “Bread and Jam for Frances” by Russell Hoban?  I loved Frances the Badger.  Like me, Frances was kind of dreamy and loved being outdoors. The descriptions of the food in the book are delightful.

By reading a book with me, with a character I could identify with and then just leaving it alone – we could have had a tender and sweet family experience and given me the opportunity to quite literally come to the table on my own INTRINSIC interest – and avoided the compulsory, compliance based approach we were raised with.

Take a moment to recognize that this kinder approach by acknowledging a 7 year old’s interests isn’t some soft-handed hippy work around to make the parents feel superior – it’s just WILDLY MORE EFFECTIVE and more humane for the whole family.

Remember the brain science!  If cortisol, the stress hormone is evolutionarily designed to narrow focus – then your child’s most obsessive interests are an illustration of a stressed mind. The obsessive focus is a symptom of the stress and not the source of the stress.

Only when we are truly seen and accepted for a narrow interest (Frances’ obsession with bread and jam) does it naturally begin to ameliorate.

Our hostess for the trainings Dr. Jenny Palmietto of Family Guidance and Therapy http://www.familyguidanceandtherapy.com 

Had something really beautiful to say. She talked about the “Otherness” of treatment.  Meaning, when you see your clients, students etc as “other” you lose the humanity and thus the effectiveness of treatment.  She illustrated that if it’s a treatment you wouldn’t do with your own children, you need to re-think it.

I would add that we need to further connect it and take a moment to tenderly reflect on our own behaviors as kids and how a compulsory, compliance-based treatment negatively affected us.

Understand that Movement Method is not a tool, it’s not a method, it’s a lens and a reference and an invitation to innovate.  The self compassion portion of MM is pivotal as we struggle to throw off the cultural norm of extrinsic rewards and compliance based systems – not for any other reason than because they do not work.

Take a deep breath, turn on some music, smile and begin by forgiving yourself. Imagine a delightful interaction. Innovate. Explore and don’t forget to laugh.

Let’s turn this post into a discussion.  List a struggle YOU had, the more sensory based, the better and how shifting the lens to how a therapist, teacher or parent could have worked with your intrinsic interests to help you overcome.

Ready? Go!